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10 most concerning weaknesses among NY Jets’ key players

Allen Lazard, NY Jets, Stats, Drops
Allen Lazard, New York Jets, Getty Images

What are the biggest holes in the New York Jets’ lineup?

Recently, I ranked the top 10 individual skills owned by players on the New York Jets’ roster. From Aaron Rodgers’ ball security, to Quinnen Williams’ pass rushing, to Garrett Wilson’s elusiveness, the Jets have plenty of elite traits on their roster.

Now it’s time to turn the page. What are the 10 most concerning weaknesses among the Jets’ key offensive and defensive players?

To clarify, we will only be looking at players who are projected to have important roles for the Jets this season. Our goal is to identify the primary weaknesses that could be costly for the Jets on a weekly basis.

Durability-related concerns will not be included. We are only looking at on-field weaknesses.

Without further ado, here are the 10 most concerning weaknesses among the Jets’ projected key players.

10. Jamien Sherwood’s coverage

Jamien Sherwood is currently pegged as the favorite to take over for Kwon Alexander as the Jets’ third linebacker, a role that typically entails playing just under half of the defensive snaps. Because of the sizable snap count, it’s a sneakily important role, and the Jets are about to bank on an unproven player to fill it (whether that is Sherwood or someone else).

If Sherwood does end up filling this role, my main concern would be his coverage. While Sherwood showed promise as a run defender in a limited sample size last season, we have yet to see much promise from him in the passing game.

Sherwood hasn’t played much in the regular season, but he’s received a decent sample of preseason snaps and his coverage track record is not promising. Over 100 preseason coverage snaps between 2021 and 2022, Sherwood allowed 11 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown on 13 targets, with no interceptions. He’s charged with allowing a 144.4 passer rating and 1.73 yards per cover snap – for reference, the 2022 NFL averages for linebackers in the regular season were 103.1 and 0.97.

Over 74 career coverage snaps in the regular season, Sherwood has only been tagged with three receptions for eight yards on four targets, although one of the catches went for a first down and Sherwood also got called for a third-down pass interference in the end zone.

As a converted safety, coverage is supposed to be Sherwood’s strong suit at the linebacker position, so it’s concerning he has not been able to flash in that area yet. This is especially alarming when considering Sherwood’s lackluster athleticism. His Relative Athletic Score coming out of Auburn was a paltry 4.90 – and that’s evaluating him as a linebacker. If you’re undersized, you’re supposed to make up for it with premier athleticism. Sherwood is undersized and unathletic among his peers at the linebacker position.

The hope is that Sherwood can use his smarts and fundamentals to overcome his physical deficiencies, but so far we haven’t seen much evidence that he is capable of doing so. In fairness, Sherwood has barely seen the field. Still, the brutal preseason production is a red flag for a player who does not have a pristine athletic profile to hang his hat on.

Look for opponents to challenge Sherwood if he plays a big role this season.

9. Allen Lazard’s hands

If you watched Joe Blewett’s film review of Allen Lazard, you know that Lazard’s hands are a major weakness in his game. Lazard’s catching technique leaves a lot to be desired. While Lazard can use his size to make some impressive contested catches in jump-ball situations, he will frustrate Jets fans with plenty of botched freebies.

The numbers back up the film. For his career, Lazard has a drop rate of 8.2%, per PFF. That is a good bit higher than the 2022 NFL average for wide receivers, which was 5.8%. Lazard’s drop rate was above 5.8% in each of the past four seasons.

In FiveThirtyEight’s 2022 receiver rankings, Lazard ranked 76th out of 83 qualified wide receivers with a “catch score” of 36 (out of a maximum 100), which is calculated by using player tracking data from ESPN to estimate catch probabilities.

8. Al Woods’ pass rushing

Even at 36 years old, the 330-pound Al Woods brings formidable run defense to the Jets. New York’s coaches will do their best to get Woods on the field in rushing situations and keep him away from passing situations. But it’s impossible to completely hide a defensive lineman from passing situations.

For example, in 2022, the Seahawks gave Woods one of the most run-heavy roles of any defensive tackle in football as he played the eighth-highest percentage of his snaps against the run among 140 qualified DTs. But since that rate was 57.8%, it means he still played 42.2% of his snaps against the pass. Woods finished the year with 156 pass-rush snaps in 14 games (11.1 per game). He’s averaged 181.3 pass-rush snaps per season over his past nine seasons (12.4 per game).

Woods will be on the field for a good deal of passing plays, and when that happens, he will be a liability. Woods’ career pressure rate is 4.7%, which is well below the 2022 league average for defensive tackles (7.0%). Over his past nine seasons, Woods is averaging 0.9 sacks and 2.1 quarterback hits per season.

This is the risk of utilizing one-dimensional defensive linemen. Yes, Woods, will be a force on run plays, and the Jets will place him in as many of those situations as possible, but they cannot entirely remove him from passing situations, and he will struggle on those plays. It’s a boom-or-bust endeavor.

7. Quinton Jefferson’s run defense

Quinton Jefferson brings the reverse skill set to Woods. Jefferson is an effective interior pass rusher but is known to struggle against the run.

In 2022, Jefferson made seven run stops (116th among DT) over 206 snaps against the run (68th). That gives him a run-stop rate of 3.3%, which ranked 133rd out of 140 qualifiers at the position.

One stat suggests Jefferson was often getting moved downfield: His average tackle against the run was made 3.3 yards downfield, which ranked 121st. The league average for defensive tackles was 2.4 yards. It’s a sign that Jefferson was not making many stops around the line of scrimmage and was often three-plus yards downfield by the time the ball got to him.

The Seahawks did their best to keep Jefferson away from the run game in 2022 as he ranked 122nd out of 140 defensive tackles with 36.4% of his snaps coming against the run. Still, he ended up playing 206 run-defense snaps in 17 games (12.1). He’ll be out there for plenty of runs each week, and the Jets need to find a way to tread water in those scenarios.

I ranked Jefferson’s weakness as more concerning than Woods’ because the Jets have plenty of pass-rush juice to accommodate for Woods’ lack of impact in that area. His quiet pass rushing shouldn’t hurt the Jets much. In Jefferson’s case, his struggles against the run will be more harmful to the Jets since their scheme already leaves them naturally susceptible to runs up the middle. Jefferson perpetuates the issue.

Blewett suggested in his Jefferson film review that the Jets’ defensive scheme might help Jefferson be more effective against the run than he was in the past. In Seattle, Jefferson was often tasked with “two-gapping” (holding your ground rather than attacking into the backfield),  which is the last thing you want him doing. But in New York’s aggressive scheme, the defensive linemen are asked to focus on one-gapping (shooting through gaps instead of holding ground), which is a better fit for the athletic but undersized Jefferson.

6. Quincy Williams’ coverage

Quincy Williams impressed the Jets enough to earn a new three-year, $18 million contract with $9 million guaranteed. Most of his progress came in the run game, though. He still carries red flags in coverage.

Williams is known for his hit-or-miss style that causes him to whiff on tackles. It’s in the passing game where this hurt him the most in 2022. Of Williams’ 14 missed tackles, four were against the run and 10 were against the pass. Those 10 whiffs tied Williams for the most passing-game missed tackles of any linebacker. His 20.4% missed tackle rate against the pass was the highest among the 52 linebackers who played at least 300 snaps in coverage.

Williams also had problems covering tight ends. He allowed 9.5 total EPA to tight ends as the nearest defender in coverage, which ranked eighth-worst among linebackers and was the worst mark of any Jets defender.

5. Laken Tomlinson’s run blocking

I think Laken Tomlinson will have a bounce-back season, but until he proves it, he needs to be ranked high on lists like this one. Tomlinson hurt the Jets in 2022 with his poor play – specifically in the run game.

Tomlinson ranked 59th out of 64 qualified guards with a run-blocking grade of 46.9 at PFF. Based on my personal charting of the film, I’m in agreement with PFF on this one. I charted Tomlinson as responsible for allowing a team-high 51 run stuffs. He tied Duane Brown for a team-worst total of -23.3 run plays saved versus expectation.

4. Duane Brown’s run blocking

As I just mentioned, Duane Brown tied Tomlinson for the most detrimental run blocker on the team in 2022 based on my personal charting. PFF agreed with me again as they placed Brown 63rd out of 66 qualified tackles with a 44.4 run-blocking grade.

Brown played through a shoulder injury that likely had a significant impact on his performance. He should play better in 2023 if he is fully healthy throughout the year.

However, a clean bill of health is far from guaranteed for a 38-year-old who has missed multiple games in five of the past eight seasons. And even if Brown is healthy, it’s fair to wonder if he is capable of being all that much better than he was in 2022 considering his age.

I’m more confident in Brown’s pass protection than his run-blocking. He was better against the pass than the run last season, and he’s been more consistent as a pass-blocker than as a run-blocker throughout his entire career. If fully healthy, he should be able to provide league-average protection for Aaron Rodgers. The run game is a massive concern, though. He showed a very low floor in 2022.

3. Jordan Whitehead’s tackling

Jordan Whitehead lays the occasional hit-stick but it comes at the cost of too many whiffs. In 2022, he tied for sixth among safeties with 17 missed tackles. One year earlier, he tied for ninth with 15 missed tackles. Whitehead and Kareem Jackson are the only safeties who ranked top 10 in both seasons.

2. Adrian Amos’ coverage

Chuck Clark was a beloved pickup amongst the Jets X-Factor crew. I loved Clark’s analytical profile and Blewett raved about Clark in his film review of the former Ravens safety. Clark’s skill set was ideal for solving some of the Jets’ main issues at the safety position, but now that Clark is out for the season, Adrian Amos comes in with many of the same question marks that already plagued the Jets in 2022.

Based on PFF’s tracking, Amos has been charged with allowing 12 touchdowns into his coverage over the past two seasons, which leads all safeties. He tied for the position lead with six touchdowns allowed in each of the past two seasons.

Numbers can lie, but the film doesn’t, and Blewett’s film review of Amos confirms that he is a player who has a lot of weaknesses in coverage. These are just a handful of the coverage-related weaknesses Blewett listed for Amos in his review:

  • Gets caught peeking back at QB too often
  • Gets too deep in coverage
  • Can get caught flat-footed
  • Gets caught “covering grass” too often
  • Inconsistent angles from deep
  • Mental lapses

The Clark injury could hurt badly unless Amos musters up a surprisingly strong season or Tony Adams breaks out.

1. Mekhi Becton’s pass blocking

Mekhi Becton‘s ceiling in this skill is higher than the ceiling of any player in this article in the skill listed for them. However, because of the enormous uncertainty with Becton and the premier value of this particular skill (pass protection on the edge in front of Aaron Rodgers), I have to place it as the Jets’ No. 1 most concerning individual weakness until Becton proves himself.

Becton consistently flashed dominance as a run-blocker in his 2020 rookie season. There isn’t much to worry about in that part of the game. The concern is that Becton still needed plenty of development in pass protection.

Becton finished the 2020 season allowing 23 pressures on 412 pass-blocking snaps for a pressure rate of 5.58%, which ranked 45th out of 63 qualified tackles. More troubling is the seven sacks Becton allowed. His 1.70% sack rate ranked second-worst.

The constant discourse around Becton’s durability has distracted people from the reality that Becton is not a finished product as a player. It’s an oversimplification to claim that all Becton has to do is stay healthy and he will dominate. The Becton we saw in 2020 was not dominant – yet.

Well, you could argue he was dominant in the run game. He was nowhere close to it in pass protection, though. While he certainly flashed the potential to be a dominant two-way tackle, his consistency needed improvement.

In addition to achieving the evasive goal of staying healthy, Becton also needs to develop his game. With all of the attention he’s been forced to place on merely trying to stay in one piece, has he been able to put in enough work to develop his pass protection skills? Time will tell. Because if Becton is the same player we saw in 2020, his pass protection could be a crushing liability for the Jets’ passing game.

Let’s not forget the rust factor, too. When the Bills arrive at MetLife Stadium on September 11, it will have been 729 days since Becton walked out of the tunnel in Charlotte to begin the 2021 season. That’s a lot of time between competitive football games. Becton could need some time to shake the rust off before he hits his stride.

Only four NFL teams had more than 50 sacks last season: Eagles, Cowboys, Patriots, and Chiefs. The Jets will play all four of those teams within the first six weeks of the season. They cannot afford for Becton to start slowly and find his footing as the year goes on. If Becton struggles early, Rodgers is going to get smothered.

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10 months ago

I don’t comment as often as I used to but the last section on Becton got me fired up. I watched Becton his rookie year and to say he would be a huge liability in the pass game is false. You consistently speak about context and I would argue half of the pressures and sacks were on the QB in 2020. Down the stretch of that season Becton was outstanding. The Raiders game was not the disaster most people claim it was go back and watch the film. One of the sacks his own man ran into him and Becton is charged with a sack. So stats need context. I would take 2020 Becton in a heartbeat because contrary to the pressure stats he was pretty solid and only got better and better as the season went on.

10 months ago

Good article. I will actually be mildy shocked if Becton even stays healthy. Yeah he’s lost weight but there’s just something missing there with him. Maybe it’s an attitude thing. Missing all the OTAs last year and then showing up overweight was just not a good look. I also do remember in 2020 when he played he got schooled by Garrett and Ferrell a few times.